By Afnan Shukry
The “Trees for Life- Planting Peace in Palestine” initiative was launched in the summer of 2006 with a clear goal in mind: to offset destruction caused onto olive groves in Palestine by replanting olive trees, a symbol of peace. Better yet, to replant hope into the hearts of Palestinians who lost it when they lost their only source of income at the hands of the Isreali Army. This year UCLA’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and United Arab Society (UAS) student groups decided to take part in this humanitarian effort of restoring peace where it is lost.
The campaign was launched in the summer of 2006 by the Olive Co-operative in conjunction with the Palestine Free Trade Association (PFTA) and Zaytoun, a non-profit organization, to provide the public with an opportunity to get involved. Not many people know that about 1 million olive trees have been destroyed in Palestine since 1967 and about 500,000 olive trees since 2000 due to settlement, settlement road building and the construction of the new Separation Wall by Israel and its army. This, obviously, represents a huge problem for Palestinian families who have been depending on the harvesting of olive oil, fruit and wood for their only source of income. This in turn, not only hurts agriculture in Palestine, but the already devastated economy, as well.
“People often assume that because we live so far away from Palestine, there is not much we can directly do. I was excited to come across a fundraiser that I knew would provide individuals with the satisfaction of being able to assist the Palestinians in their struggle for survival,” Ghaleb Attrache, Treasurer of U.A.S. Not only does this campaign provide a median for supporting struggling Palestinians, but it makes donating very accessible. Anyone wishing to donate to the cause can submit their donation on-line or send a check to the organization.
However, with the submission dead line coming close, SJP and UAS decided to take action, fast. For two days, Wednesday and Thursday the 18th and 19th, the same days of the UC Reagants Protests, the two student groups fundraised on Bruinwalk. As incentive the clubs made a tree on which donors could place their names. After donating money, individuals wrote their names on the paper leaves and pinned the leaves on the branches of the tree. Along side the tree, which sat on one of two tables, a Palestinian flag hung.
Each $25 dollars raised replants one tree and for every $100, five trees will be replanted. Although the fundraiser received multiple generous donations, the majority of the funds raised came from small donations of as little as $1.00.
“We initially set a goal of raising $200 over a span of two days because frankly, we didn’t know what kind of reaction and support we would receive from the UCLA community, especailly with the tuition-hike protests going on simultaneously,” Attrache.
After two days of fundraising, however, UAS and SJP came out with $350.
“We were able to raise enough money to plant over a dozen olive trees in Palestine and we gained campus wide support, not limited to individuals who were pro-Palestinians and Arabs,” Ursula Barghouth, President of SJP.
Actually, they raised enough money to re-plant seventeen olive trees.
“This went above and beyond expectations, and definitely added to our overall satisfaction with our humanitarian effort,” Attrache.
“One of the main reasons we feel we got such a positive response is because ‘Trees for Life’ is humanitarian.” The fundraiser was not political and did not carry an offensive or negative message. “Olive trees are both economically and culturally important to palestinians. Who can say no to replanting a symbol of hope?” Barghouth.
According to Positive News, “The trees will be distributed in Palestine by the PFTA to farmers who follow fair trade guidelines and who will benefit from future purchases of Palestinian olive oil.” More information on how recipients of the trees are selected is available on-line at http://www.olivecoop.com/trees-for-life/.
When asked about additional U.A.S./ S.J.P. participation in humanitarian efforts, both groups responded optimistically.
“In my opinion, all educational events towards Palestine are humanitarian. Screening a film exposing the injustice, informational displays out on bruin walk, a pannel discussion, comedy show, benifit dinner…I feel it all helps the palestinian cause,” Barghouth
In general, “The United Arab Society is always willing to participate in humanitarian efforts; whether it be an Arab or non-Arab cause. We work with many other clubs and organizations on campus, so whatever other projects arise, we will utilize our resources to help out in any way,” Attrache.
Seems like one more event at UCLA, put on by Bruins and showing their ability to take an initiative and be the change they want to see in the world.